One Power Five against another: 30 head-to-head matchups, season after season. So crazy, it could work? It was one man's idea to strengthen the Big 12, and the Pac-12 along with it. But could a scaled-down version be realistic?
Imagine a world in which Oklahoma’s nonconference lineup consists of Arizona, USC and Utah — yes, all in the same season — while Washington’s three out-of-league opponents that year are Oklahoma State, TCU and Iowa State.
Meanwhile, Texas plays Oregon, UCLA and Colorado.
The Ducks? They get Texas, Kansas State and Texas Tech.
In this world, the Big 12 and the Pac-12 are bound together by a strategic alliance in which all available nonconference dates are filled by teams from the other league.
No more FCS cupcakes.
No more Group of Five opponents.
It’s one Power Five against another: 30 head-to-head matchups, season after season.
The plan is radical enough that it would be easy to dismiss categorically, save for the identity of the author (a former Big 12 president) and his inspiration (a current Big 12 president).
Jon Wefald, who ran Kansas State for 23 years — he hired Bill Snyder — said he devised the strategic alliance after being asked by current West Virginia president Gordon Gee, in the fall of 2017, to consider ways to “strengthen” the Big 12.
“My first idea was to figure out a strategy to convince Arizona and Arizona State to become the 11th and 12th members of the Big 12,” Wefald told the Hotline via email. “I rather quickly dismissed that idea.”
Wefald, who was not working for the Big 12 in an official capacity, concluded his pet project months later with an 11-page document titled, “A Proposal to Create A Strategic Alliance Between The Big 12 And The Pac-12.”
In it, he writes:
“This alliance of 22 universities from the Great Plains to the West Coast would provide the vital content of big-time football games that dovetail nicely with the new developing platforms of information.”
Wefald’s proposal calls for all 30 of the Big 12’s nonconference games and for 30 of the Pac-12’s 36 out-of-league games to be played against each other.
The matchups would be spread evenly across the season (10 per month) with the winners of each conference meeting at the end of the regular season for a championship game, which would rotate between the Rose Bowl and AT&T Stadium.
Gee called the proposal “brilliant,’’ according to Wefald, but declined to comment.
“Dr. Gee is not prepared to discuss President Wefald’s proposal,’’ a university spokesperson said in response to an interview request.
Before anyone sounds the superconference alert, let’s be clear: Both a trove of emails between Gee and Wefald shared with the Hotline and a lengthy interview with Wefald make it clear his project did not stem from concern that either conference is on the verge of getting poached or embarking on an acquisition spree.
(There is no indication a realignment wave is forming across major college football.)
Instead, the motivation appears to be straightforward.
After so much tumult, the Big 12 is stable and prosperous. Gee was simply seeking ways to secure that existence into the next decade and beyond when he asked Wefald “to think of ways to further strengthen the Big 12,” according to an account of their exchange.
Rather than fending off dissolution or expansion, the alliance is designed to appeal to media partners of the future and deepen fan engagement by creating a barrage of quality matchups. (Wefald devised the alliance with the help of Dick Robertson, the former president of Warner Bros. Television Distribution.)
But before digging deeper into the matter, context is required on several fronts.
Wefald “is not an emissary of the Big 12,” commissioner Bob Bowlsby told the Hotline. “He is a former president with an interest in our conference, but he hasn’t been authorized to serve in any outreach role whatsoever.”
Other Big 12 presidents are aware of the plan, according to Wefald.
“President Gee did talk to all of the other 9 Big 12 Presidents (on) the merits of our Strategic Proposal,” he explained via email.
“He also talked to Commissioner Bob Bowlsby. Of course, the Commissioner has to listen to all 10 of the Big 12 Presidents. How many of the other 9 CEOs liked it, I do not know.”
While creative and bold, Wefald’s strategic alliance is considered impractical by the schools on multiple levels:
- For competitive reasons, the head coaches wouldn’t agree to play every nonconference game against Power Five opponents.
Nor would the Big 12 athletic directors agree to commit every nonconference opening to teams from the Pac-12, and vice versa.
Why would Texas, for instance, remove from its schedule potential dates with the likes of Alabama, Notre Dame or Texas A&M?
- Many teams have scheduled home-and-home series against other Power Five opponents through the 2020s, with contracts that carry hefty buyouts.
Oregon, for example, has dates with Michigan State in ’29 and ’30.
- Financially, the alliance simply won’t work.
Most athletic departments need seven home football games per year to generate the revenue (through ticket sales and gate receipts) to meet budget requirements.
In an inter-conference alliance, the seven-home-games math doesn’t work.
“We can’t possibly all our nonconference games against the Pac-12,” Bowlsby said, “and they can’t do it against us.”
On a broader level, however, a partnership between the conferences has merit at the turnstiles and in the homes.
Selling tickets to watch second-rate opponents is increasingly difficult, even for the powerhouses in the football-crazed SEC.
“I’ve always been an advocate of playing all Power Five schools,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said in 2018.
“I think we need to have more really, really good games on TV for the players. We can’t have fans who pay a lot of money for tickets and boxes and loges who support our programs to pay for games that no one is interested in watching.”
With so many options for content delivery and consumption, quality is king. The Pac-12’s current Tier 1 media rights contracts with ESPN and Fox expire in 2024; the Big 12’s deals are up the following year.
Bowlsby is one step ahead, having discussed consortia with Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott and officials from other Power Fives.
“(Scott) and I talk frequently about ways we can collaborate on different things,” Bowlsby said, adding that a scheduling partnership in a greatly reduced form (compared to Wefald’s version) “is not far-fetched” for the Big 12.
Nor is it for the Pac-12.
In the late 2000s, the conference played the Big 12 in the Hardwood Series, with games in late November and early December.
And in the early 2010s, the Pac-12 discussed a partnership with the Big Ten by which each team from one conference would play a team from the other. (The plan ultimately fell apart.)
“In collaboration with our members,” Scott told the Hotline, “we regularly discuss scheduling opportunities with other conferences where we can help our programs and our fans.”
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A football scheduling partnership between the Big 12 and Pac-12 would do more than provide quality content for future network partners. It would do so across the canvass of broadcast windows, potentially increasing the value of the package.
Because of campus geography, a partnership would cover all four times zones with desirable kickoff options: Games could start as early as 12 p.m. Eastern on Big 12 campuses and as late as 10:30 p.m. Eastern on Pac-12 campuses. In other words: a quadruple-header.
Instead of filling every nonconference spot with an opponent from the other league, as Wefald proposed, what if just one spot was filled.
Instead of all 22 schools participating each season, what if six from each conference were involved on a rotating basis?
Maybe a dynamic scheduling component could be included within the broader alliance, with teams told in advance to block off certain Saturdays in a given year.
Each spring, after rosters were set and expectations established, the conferences would announce the matchups.
It could be like the World Cup draw, without the Group of Death.
However unrealistic the specifics of Wefald’s plan, the Big 12 and Pac-12 might be stronger venturing into the future side by side.